SAN DIEGO (CN) – The Trump administration told a federal judge Monday it will only be able to reunite about half of the parents and children under the age of five separated at the U.S.-Mexico border by the deadline set two weeks ago.
On June 26, U.S. District Judge Dana Sabraw in San Diego ordered the government to reunite children under five years old with their parents by Tuesday. Older children must be returned to their parents within 30 days of Sabraw’s order.
At a hearing on Friday, Sabraw ordered the Trump administration to produce a list of 101 children under the age of 5 who were separated from their parents and turn it over to the American Civil Liberties Union and the court as part of a lawsuit.
But ACLU attorney Lee Gelernt said over the weekend the group was given “incomplete information” and by Sunday the list was updated to include 102 children.
Justice Department attorney Sarah Fabian said at a Monday morning status conference that the number of parents to be reunified with their children by Tuesday could be a little more than half of that list, as the government works to determine parentage and criminal backgrounds.
From that list, six people have been deemed ineligible to receive children: three have criminal histories, and three are not the parents of the children they were with when detained by border officials. Of the remaining 96 children, the Justice Department predicts it will be able to reunite 59 by Tuesday’s deadline.
The department said 54 of the 59 will be reunited with their parents by Tuesday, and background checks are being completed on the other five. Only two children have been reunited so far, Fabian said.
Sabraw asked Gelernt, “To the extent that the government can and is able to reunite, is it your judgment that they’re in compliance (with the order)?”
Gelernt said there is disagreement over the process the federal government is using to verify and match parents to their children.
In previous filings, the government described its lengthy process of taking DNA swabs and sometimes conducting field interviews to determine the children’s parents.
“I think the government has taken significant steps,” Gelernt said. “Additionally, we don’t know how much effort they’ve made to find these parents. They certainly haven’t reunited the parents and kids who are non-criminals. In that sense there has not been full compliance.”
In preparation to further reunions of parents and children, the government asked that the time and location be kept private. Gelernt asked Sabraw if a faith-based nonprofit organization could be present to provide logistics to the reunited families.
There is concern that parents moved across the country while in U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement custody to be closer to their children are going to walk out of the facility after being reunited in state that they’re not familiar with.
“The faith-based group or NGO would be there to see if they need a bus ticket,” said Gelernt.
ICE said it has identified parents who fall into the court-ordered class are being held in 23 facilities across 13 states.
Sabraw ordered an update for later Monday on how many families will be reunited by Tuesday and which ones are not going to be reunited. He asked for explanations on those that will require more time and ordered the attorneys back in court on Tuesday morning.
The attorneys will then hash out the larger class of children who are older than five and must be reunited with their parents within two weeks.